Thursday, October 09, 2014

Another Try Hard

When I was in grade six and our school had their end of year assembly the teacher who was the de facto athletic director of the school (he ran all of the teams, organized all of that sort of stuff) handed out awards and gave speeches in front of the assembled. We had teams in all four city wide tournaments that year. There was three pitch, ball hockey, soccer (I think that was the third) and handball. Not european handball but a kind of hybrid between basketball and hockey. It was played on a basketball court. You could take three steps with the ball and then had to pass it off or shoot it from outside the crease area. The goalie wore a full mask and guarded a hockey net. The ball was a bit larger than a softball, it was rubber and you could dribble it. Not as hard as a basketball but it could hurt you if you took it in the face.

 There were a dozen boys in our grade six class. Six of us got around all of the time and five of our little group were on all of the teams along with a couple of Italian kids, Dean Prelazzi and Felix Cerelli, and a kid from the nearby government housing projects who captained our city championship hockey team a couple of years later. It's funny when you look back and you realize what was going on. This guy never had gloves or a warm winter hat and came to school in the dead of winter in a leather jacket. No money, just a poor kid. He wasn't a great student but he was a terrific guy. I wrote about him years ago and Dennis King asked me if I knew what became of him and I don't know.

 Anyhow it was this group and a handful of the strongest grade five athletes (one who would go on to a scholarship, fifteen years in the minors and Europe and one game in the NHL) who made up the core of the St. Andrew's Thunderbirds. Also rans in our sports of choice - hockey, soccer and ball, we tore through the city to become the unlikeliest of city champions in handball. We had some decent athletes but we were carried by the kid from the projects. He was a bit bigger than normal but the key was that he had a gun for an arm and big hands so he could palm the ball. He knocked at least one goalie out that I can remember and by the end of the tournament when he got the ball our opponents would hit the floor when he wound up. The rest of the team provided enough support and we got good goaltending and we won it all. I played quite a bit until the championship when we faced a big team from the other side of the city (many of them had moustaches coming on) and my size, lack of size that is, became a factor. So one of my buddies and I sat on the bench for most of the big game. He, a fellow shrimp, was pissed. I cheered on my pals. I was so happy to win.

 Anyhow at this assembly buddy gives out the ribbons or certificate or whatever it was, there were no trophies, it wasn't like it is today that's for sure, maybe we each got a pebble or something picked up from the schoolyard and if I recall correctly (this was nearly thirty five years ago so cut me some slack) he named each kid who was on a team or teams and then gave them their piece of gravel. Well he goes through everybody, I mean everybody, and I get no mention and then he looks at me and calls me up, the last guy.

 Now I was a bit of a smart aleck and I didn't really like the teacher much so I didn't really appreciate it at the time, certainly not as much as I should have. He gave a nice speech about having heart and trying hard and made the point that despite being a little guy (and honestly not that athletic on top of everything) I had made all four school teams plus the track team and that showed you what you could do with some heart and guts and all that good stuff.

 A try hard. That's what I was. That's what I am today. I'm a decent hockey player but I'm a try hard with hands of stone.

 And the boy, well he's a chip off the old block.

 He's a bit bigger than I was. I was a shrimp. A real shrimp. Like in grade 10 I had barely broken a hundred pounds. (I went out for football in grade 11 and was cut. Couldn't believe it. In retrospect the coach probably saved my life). So the boy can't help but be bigger. Impossible not to be.

 He's a smart player, which I was as well but he is has more guts and while I like to say I was a try hard the reality is that I wasn't one of those little guys whose motor is always running. Now I am but when I was a kid I could coast a bit. Not the boy.

 He just finished his fourth year of cross country and it was a resounding success. Last year was tough. Two years ago there was a work to rule deal going on with the teachers here thanks to that stupid asshole Dalton McGuinty (I never talk politics - sorry about this - but I despised that guy. Worst premier in Ontario's history and there have been some awful awful ones) and so a lot of schools didn't send teams to the meet so the boy finished pretty well compared to his first year. Are you keeping up?

 So he is feeling pretty good about himself last year and he puts in the work. Monday to Thursday he gets up early and goes to practice and runs his laps even while a bunch of his buddies ran one lap of the school and then goofed off. And then on race day he finishes nearly a hundred places lower than the year before and  to rub salt in the wound his buddies, the goof offs, all finish higher than him because essentially they are far better athletes.

 He was devastated.

 This year we talked about the process and he did his work again. I timed him when I took him to practice, to give him an idea of how each lap was going so that he could work on being consistent. Jenn is training for her first marathon (she's mental - she ran a half the other night. Just went out and ran it. Crazy.) and so she talked to him about some different ideas and took him to the practice run last weekend.

 On race day I told him that he had put in the work and should be proud of it and that my only advice would be to try and stay with the pack. Last year there were the rabbits and then the lead group and then the pack and then the stragglers, of which he was one. I told him to stay with the pack as best as he could and then sprint when he was ready to sprint.

 How did he do? Hilariously Jenn did not have the camera ready because she was not expecting him to be where he was. He was with the pack and finished in the middle of it and improved his placing by eighty over last year. He had nothing left when they came to the homestretch and so was passed by a few but there was no doubt that he had left it all out there. He's ready for next year and his goal, certainly attainable, is to cut 15 seconds off each 500 metres (it's a 2K). Do that and he will move up another fifty places or so at least, the pack is that closely bunched together.

 Very proud of our son today. More importantly he is proud of himself.


After the contenders and second tier clubs I wrote about yesterday come the rest of the playoff teams. It's pretty touch and go at this point. For the upper echelon clubs only total disaster is going to knock them out of the playoffs, a raft of injuries, bad luck and off years for everyone. For the following clubs, well, for a few of them the playoffs are a sure thing but for others a couple of bad breaks (or another team suddenly taking off or getting tons of luck) will mean they are out.

 I don't think any of these clubs have a shot at winning or even playing for the Cup. They might win a series, sure, but they are all too flawed to go very far.

Playoff Shoo Ins

Wild on Jack Lemaire - Minnesota beat the Avs and gave Chicago fits in the second round. Fast, deep and a lot of kids on the way. Plus Vanek added to the mix. A good club.

Pittsburgh - The Pens have Crosby and Malkin and they will make the playoffs but to me they are still top heavy up front, though not as much as last year. Ehrhoff is a star but I rate Bylsma highly and think replacing him was a mistake and their D and goaltending are still suspect. As usual there are those who think they are the class of the east. I don't get that at all. Too good to not make the playoffs though.

Rangers - Love Alain Vigneault and like this team a lot but their depth took way too many hits for them to be considered a contender.

Islanders - This feels weird. Still, the Isles added a real goalie, two real defencemen and two real forwards. Plus Tavares is healthy. I think they make it with room to spare.

That's seven teams out west and six in the east. Now for the bubble teams.

Now For The Bubble Teams (Like I Just Said)

Honestly any of these teams could have a regular amount of luck and stay healthy and still bomb out. Bad luck and injuries and they are doomed. We're getting into dicey territory now. *rolls dice*


That last spot is probably between the Avs and the Canucks. The former are on their way up and the latter are on their way down and I would not be greatly surprised if neither make it but they are the best of the rest. The Avs were very very lucky last year and had amazing goaltending and then they moved out Stastny and Parenteau. Relying on out of this world goaltending does not a contender make and while their youth up front is amazing, I mean just unbelievable, that D stinks. On the other hand the Canucks, well they are no longer the Canucks. The D is great but Miller is a step down from Luongo and Schneider and now Kesler is gone too? This team is just a shadow of themselves but Tortorella is horrible and they had pretty well everything go wrong last year. The abyss is near but they might sneak into the playoffs one last time.


What a goddamned mess this conference is. I honestly don't even know who might make the playoffs once you get past those first six teams. I'm going to go with Jersey who actually gave Martin Brodeur starts last year and didn't get one shootout win. A few of those and some decent goaltending in those Brodeur starts should be enough to get them in. After that though, um ..... I could see one of a half dozen teams getting in. So let's save them for one last post because honestly I don't know. And I don't really care that much.


Anonymous said...

As a long time Oilers fan (now based in Ontario), but more especially as a father, I truly appreciate your blog. You expertly weave together real-life triumphs and tribulations with the team I ardently support. In essence, you create the tapestry of why we are sports fans to begin with. Well done sir.

Kyle Kosior said...

By way of confession, its been an embarrassingly long time since I have visited this blog. Between a rambunctious (truculent?) 3 year old, one on the way, subscribing to the Economist and seeing over 30 hockey games already, I completely spaced on BDHS. My mistake!

As always, these pages are a pleasure to read and I enjoy the mix of personal and hockey.

Please write something (anything) reassuring about those Oilers, sometime soon.

OilfaninVic said...

I keep checking...time for new post please.

Black Dog said...

Hey Kyle! Thanks for the kind words first of all but most importantly congrats! That's wonderful news.

Thanks Anon! Appreciate it.